Northern Irish writer shared passion for arts, travel and food


Ian Hill:THE NORTHERN Ireland author, travel writer, arts critic and journalist Ian Hill has died suddenly at his home in Co Down aged 72.

His passions included the arts, travel and food. He had tremendous enthusiasm for the visual and performing arts, writing prolifically on many aspects of the artistic world and reviewing numerous exhibitions and plays. He served on the board of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast, the Ulster Orchestra and the Ulster Theatre Company. More recently he was a director of the Northern Ireland Museums Council.

Born in Enniskillen, he was educated at Portora Royal School and later studied dentistry at Queen’s University Belfast. While at Queen’s he edited the university newspaper Gown as well as co-editing the Northern Review.

In the early 1960s, he joined the Belfast Telegraphworking for its new tabloid Ulsterweek and wrote freelance theatre reviews for the Guardian. Journalism was his stock-in-trade and later in his career he wrote for The Irish Times, News Letterand Ulster Tatleras well as contributing regularly to a range of journals. But he did not confine himself to print and turned his talents to broadcasting, presenting arts programmes for BBC radio and television as well as RTÉ. In the late 1960s he was part of the Flashpointteam at Ulster Television.

Throughout the 1980s he was director of public relations for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board in a particularly difficult period of the Troubles. Although it was an uphill struggle he succeeded in bringing in influential journalists to write about beauty spots.

Aside from travel guides he wrote acclaimed books that focused on local history. His latest book and his 16th on Ireland, My Lagan Love(2008), charted the social history of the river Lagan. In recent years he moved to Strangford in Co Down which proved inspirational, providing material for two books in 2007 and giving scope to his creative rein. The first, Lecale: St Patrick’s County Down, was a collection of writings from the Lecale area where his maternal and paternal ancestors came from.

The second book Strangford: Portrait of an Irish Lough was a glossy celebration of one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland. Hill’s lyrical text accompanied stunning photographs by Alain Le Garsmeur and the book became a bestseller.

At his funeral service in Down Cathedral, Ciaran Carson read a poem and on the tin whistle played Táimse im Chodhladh. He also read a letter from Seamus Heaney, a contemporary of Hill at Queen’s, who described him as being “the acme of style and talent and cool”.

An affable bon viveur, Ian Hill knew the location of the best restaurants in many of his travel destinations and was filled with a sense of fun, always making time for friendship.

He is survived by his wife Helena, two daughters Samantha and Jocylin, and sister Joan.

Ian Julian McCartan Hill: born October 22nd, 1937; died July 16th, 2010